(AP) — Though immigration to the southern border of the United States slowed markedly in June, big numbers have arrived this year, straining government resources and resulting in dangerously overcrowded detention facilities.
From October 2018 through the end of June, the Border Patrol arrested more than 688,000 people, more than half of them families and unaccompanied children. Although people from all over the world enter the United States via the Mexican border, the vast majority come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, three Central American countries where violence, poverty and government corruption are rampant.
In El Salvador, for example, there are nearly 83 homicides per 100,000 people in a country of 6.4 million. In Guatemala, almost 60% of people live below the poverty line, and government institutions are weak and wracked by corruption, making many cities essentially lawless. In Honduras, almost 65% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Since 2016, Congress has allocated more than $2.6 billion in foreign assistance to countries in Central America, hoping funding would reduce violence and poverty and stem migration north. But President Trump announced this year that he was slashing funding, in retaliation for the numbers of immigrants coming from those countries.
What awaits them at the border is also a challenge.
The Trump administration has instituted a number of policies that make it nearly impossible to seek asylum through border crossings, including a dramatic reduction in the number of people allowed to petition for asylum. Asylum-seekers are forced to wait in Mexico, joining thousands of others on a wait list. Bowdlerized as “metering,” it takes months before they’re even allowed to approach U.S. officials to initiate the process. The wait lists are managed by the immigrants themselves, by local shelters or Mexican authorities. The U.S. government decides how many people are allowed to request asylum each day, but there are days when they don’t call on anyone in some cities.
If a person does get called to start the process, they face a program known as “remain in Mexico” that forces them to wait south of the border after they’ve asked for asylum. Launched at the end of January in Tijuana, the program has been expanded to three other cities and nearly 20,000 people have been sent back from the United States to await their asylum case in Mexico.
The latest announcement by the Trump administration disqualifies any asylum-seeker who traveled through another country to get to the United States. The move, which appears to violate U.S. and international law, is being challenged in court and a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday halting the policy while the lawsuit plays out. That ruling came hours after another federal judge, in Washington D.C., let the nine-day-old policy stand.
For those who are already in the country and have pending immigration cases, the wait is extremely long — on average nearly two years for a hearing. There are almost 900,000 cases waiting to be heard in immigration court. California, Texas and New York have the most pending cases.